FAO Forestry Department organizes two meetings for countries in transition in Eastern Europe
The FAO Forestry Department has recently organized two complementary meetings for countries with economies in transition: one with a policy focus, the Workshop on the Analysis of Experiences and Constraints in the Evolution of Policies and Institutions relevant to the Forestry Sector in Eastern Europe; and one concentrating on forest operations, the FAO/Austria Seminar on Economics and Management of Forest Operations for Countries in Transition to Market Economies.
The Workshop on the Analysis of Experiences and Constraints in the Evolution of Policies and Institutions relevant to the Forestry Sector in Eastern Europe was organized by the University of Florence and the FAO Forestry Department with the financial support of the Italian Government. It was held in Florence, Italy, from 17 to 20 May 1994, with participants from Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
The main objective of the workshop was to provide a forum for experts from East European countries to exchange information and discuss important experiences and issues in the process of the forestry sector's transition to a market economy. More specific goals were to: facilitate an understanding of the evolution of national policies and institutions; analyse important issues, positive developments and major constraints; and identify key areas in which cooperation is needed for strengthening national capacities to develop forest policies and adapt institutions to an economically effective, socially equitable and environmentally sound contribution of the forestry sector to sustainable development.
The workshop was also meant to contribute to the Fifth Study of European Timber Trends and Prospects (ETTS V) being carried out under the auspices of FAO/ECE. The discussions were to provide indications concerning the present and future impacts of the evolution of forestry policies and institutions on the development of the forestry sector and on the supply and demand of forest products.
In synthesis, the picture emerging from the presentations of the participants and the workshop discussions was one of advanced technical capacities in forestry being confronted with developments and challenges similar to those of Western Europe, including multipurpose forest management, environmental and social demands, the conservation of ecosystems, the transfer of lands currently under agriculture to (or back to) forestry, etc.
On the other hand, a number of issues clearly related to the transition process emerged with varying degrees of intensity from different countries: the restitution of land to former owners; the privatization of forestry activities in public forests; the privatization and modernization of forest industries; the adaptation of policies, legislation and government responsibilities to new goals and challenges; economic competition and market development; the status of information both on forest resources and production; trade and prices of forest products; combining environmental protection and economic utilization of natural resources; extension and financial support to farm and private forestry; generating domestic and external funding for investments in forestry and forest industries, etc.
There was recognition of a critical need in all countries for more information and knowledge related to market issues, and for the retraining and exposure of staff to enable them to meet the challenges of the new political and market economy context.
The workshop participants concluded that, notwithstanding these common issues and the importance of collaboration, each country would have to develop its own approaches, while common "solutions" transferred from other countries should be avoided.
Activities that could be initiated in the short term on issues identified by the workshop include: the development of a platform for the regular exchange of information and experience among transition countries (with catalytic assistance from international organizations, including FAO), and additional workshops, training and retraining in policy formulation, statistical systems, marketing, extension and pricing.
The FAO/Austria Seminar on Economics and Management of Forest Operations for Countries in Transition to Market Economies was held in Ort in Gmunden, Austria, from 27 June to 3 July 1994, with participants from 13 countries (Albania, Bulgaria Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Russian Federation).
The objectives of the seminar were to: improve understanding of the principles of economically efficient and environmentally sound forest harvesting operations, based on the experience of private forest enterprises and government supported programmes; provide information on integrated multiple use forest management infrastructure development, on the integration of agriculture, forestry and tourism as well as on the development of intermediate and advanced technology for forestry operations and sawmilling; demonstrate appropriate forest operations enhancement and the involvement of local populations in forest harvest and transport; and present country reports and facilitate exchanges of experience related to the transformation of centrally planned forest operations into market-oriented enterprises.
The programme consisted of a mix of lectures, presentations of country reports and field visits covering a wide range of subjects relating to land-use planning, the application of appropriate forest engineering, harvest and transport systems, forest utilization, timber grading and marketing.
The seminar participants identified three main bottlenecks in the development of their countries' forest sector during the process of transition: a lack of appropriate information; a lack of relevant management skills; and a lack of long-term credit with affordable interest rates. There was agreement that national-level seminars and special training courses would be a valuable follow-up to this initiative.